Longtime Long Island Gulls coach Mike Bracco vividly remembers the day he walked into the Ice Works rink in Syosset and laid eyes on a 4-year-old Adam Fox for the first time.
“I saw a little kid in a Rangers jersey and the jersey was hanging below his knees,” Bracco told The Post through a belly laugh over the phone Saturday. “I was just watching him out there, my eyes just gravitated to this kid and all he’s doing is moving the puck around at 4 years old, just like the older kids. So I’m like, ‘I got to find out who this kid is or the parents or whatever.’ ”
One conversation led to another with Fox’s mom, Tammy, and his dad, Bruce, and suddenly the Jericho native was enrolled on Bracco’s team — a group of kids that were all a year older than Fox. He played under Bracco for the next 12 years.
Bracco is still the head coach of the Gulls, coaching his youngest son now. He finds himself frequently telling stories about Fox to his new group, of the now Rangers defenseman’s uncanny poise with the puck and hockey IQ that was part of his game from the moment he laced up his first pair of skates.
“I tell all the kids, ‘With Adam, to this day, I’ve never seen him turn the puck over and make a mistake. I watched him at 4 and 5 years old. He moved the puck then like he does now at 22,’ ” Bracco said. “That’s really rare because he was never the biggest kid, he was never the strongest kid, was never the fastest kid, but he was just so smart.”
Bracco has worked with several young players and their families, but Fox was the only one — besides one of his other sons — to play up a year. But Fox had a maturity to him that allowed him to seamlessly fit in with the older kids. He never fooled around, never goofed off and took hockey pretty seriously.
Fox never had to be dragged to the rink, Bracco recalled. He didn’t have to overdo it during training because the game simply came so naturally to him.
“The way I think of Adam, is he would always take a step back, read everything, and then just have the right answer to it just like the way he plays now,” Bracco said.
Now, in his second season playing on the team he grew up rooting for, Fox is still that cerebral-type player with an astounding level of composure that makes everyone around him better.
You can see it in the way he maneuvers from behind the Rangers’ net to the neutral zone — something he does game after game — somehow guiding his teammates to the open parts of the ice for a clear shot. All while maintaining possession of the puck.
It’s in the way he dove headfirst across the goal line to stop 12-year veteran Brad Marchand from getting the overtime winner just a few seconds earlier than he eventually did in the Rangers’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Bruins last week.
It’s the no-look passes, perfectly placed point shots that are easily redirected into the back of the net, and the way he’s drawn comparisons to Brian Leetch, one of the Rangers’ greatest defensemen of all time.
The Rangers gave up just two 2019 second-round picks to the Hurricanes to acquire Fox a little less than two years ago. But it’s looking like the deal of the century as Fox continues to solidify himself as an integral part of the team’s future.
When Fox showed up to the U.S. National Team Development Program Evaluation Camp in 2014, then-head coach Danton Cole took note of his elite hockey sense, but also the confidence that came with it.
Still, an undersized Fox was the last defenseman added to the roster, which also included his current defensive partner Ryan Lindgren.
“I won’t be eighth for long,” he told his agent, Matt Keator.
Fox’s name is now sprinkled all over USA Hockey’s record books. From 2014-16, Fox accumulated 86 points, the fourth-most by a defensemen in USNTDP history.
His nine goals and 50 assists for 59 points during the 2015-16 season is the second-most points by a defenseman in a single season.
In 2017, an 18-year-old Fox helped Team USA to a gold medal at the World Junior Championships with four points in seven games — including an assist on the game-tying goal to force overtime against Team Canada in the tournament final.
“It was just stuff he did on the ice, just where he would make a pass or a play where you’re like, ‘How in the world did he pull that off?’ ” Cole said. “But then he was so casual about it. Most guys, some of the plays he would make, they’d be celebrating and all that, but for him, it’s just another shift, an ‘I do that every shift.’
“He had had that abundance of popularity on the team and he would throw out a jab every once in a while or say something, and when he would the guys would say, ‘That’s just so Foxy.’ ”
Fox carried that swagger hockey coaches marvel over from the Midget Minors, Team USA and right to Harvard. That was just one of his many attributes that leapt off the ice at longtime Crimson coach Ted Donato when a 14-year-old Fox participated in the team’s summer camp.
He was one of the youngest players on the ice among juniors and seniors in high school, including some who had already graduated, but that wasn’t unusual for him.
“The nature of being a coach at Harvard is when you see somebody that you’re excited about, you kind of run right to the transcripts,” Donato said with a giggle. “And he had outstanding grades in high school.”
By the end of his junior season in 2018-19, Fox was the top scoring player and defensemen in the country with 1.45 points per game. He was the ECAC Hockey Player of the Year, Ivy League Player of the Year, and an Academic All-Ivy honoree. Fox also broke the school record for points by a defenseman in one season.
Fox was a top-three finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, the most prestigious award in college hockey, falling just short to 2020 Calder Trophy winner Cale Makar.
“We all understood how great he was,” Donato said.
Fox has become an irreplaceable presence on the Rangers’ blue line, with nine goals and 40 assists in just 83 games, but he’s proven to morph into that essential player for every team he’s ever played on.
It makes it easy for the Rangers to expect greatness from him, great is all Fox has ever been.